We are not currently meeting 'in-person'

We are not currently meeting 'in-person.'
I have made the difficult decision to stop holding our in-person Sunday night meetings - you can read more about this in my post here. I will be continuing to post weekly content here and in our newsletter. Do remember to sign up for the 'Metta Letter' newsletter below as I will be sending out weekly meditations there.

Sunday, December 11, 2022

Be Not Afraid

Be Not Afraid

There are some fun (and somewhat disturbing) memes going around at the moment where people try to produce images (and in one extreme case a taxidermy sculpture) that recreate what angels might look like, based on how they are described in the Bible. I'm not going to link to any of them directly as while fun some of them are the stuff of nightmares. There is a reason why in the Bible accounts the first thing they say is 'Be Not Afraid!"

We are at the time of the year where the classic western depictions of angels appear everywhere - usually as beautiful, buff, glowing humans (often female) who just happen to have magnificent wings. This certainly doesn't jibe with what the Old Testament prophets said they saw, but it is much less scary for the children. When I was a kid in England there was a blurry line between angels and fairies, and we would have a blonde doll (usually inexpertly made from a toilet roll with a wool wig and cardboard wings) perched on top of the Christmas tree. This was referred to interchangeably as the 'fairy' on top of the tree or the 'angel.' Of course what is interesting here is that the doll looked nothing like an old English folk-tale description of a fairy either! It seems like to be acceptable to be brought into the home, and so as not to frighten the Children, the image has to be sanitized and made a lot less scary - whether it's a fairy or an angel.

The reason for angels being so prevalent at this time of the year comes from their role in the traditional Christmas story as recounted in the Gospel of Luke, when an angel (having of course started with 'Fear Not...') announces the birth of Christ and ends with:

“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”

For those of us who wish to cultivate metta in our own lives the angel's declaration should resonate. Metta is usually translated as 'lovingkindness' but also often as 'goodwill' as a universal, unconditional love for all beings.

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu explains why 'goodwill' may be a better rendering of metta like this:

[...] These different ways of expressing metta show that metta is not necessarily the quality of lovingkindness. Metta is better thought of as goodwill, and for two reasons. The first is that goodwill is an attitude you can express for everyone without fear of being hypocritical or unrealistic. It recognizes that people will become truly happy not as a result of your caring for them but as a result of their own skillful actions, and that the happiness of self-reliance is greater than any happiness that comes from dependency.

As someone who was brought up in, but who no longer follows, the Christian tradition I like to gravitate towards this traditional message of goodwill to all people at this time of the year. Out of all the Christmas messages, this is the one that resonates for me most.

So, whether they are scary balls of feathers and eyes or beautiful humanoids, let's at least join with the angels in wishing goodwill to all people this season. And remember, like a puppy, metta isn't just for Christmas!

Metta, Chris.

PS. Two years ago I wrote a longer essay on this idea of metta and goodwill - you can read it here.

PPS.  Note the verse from Luke isn't without controversy among Christian theologians, as some question the universal nature of 'good will.' I am not at all qualified to comment on the Christian interpretation of that, but having done a little reading around it I still like to keep with the traditional reading.

PPPS. I have linked below a fully guided meditation on 'Peace on Earth, Goodwill to all men' - feel free to use it in your practice however you wish.


Bible verse from Luke 3:14 (KJV)

Ṭhānissaro Bhikkhu - Metta Means Goodwill - Retrieved from
https://www.dhammatalks.org/books/BeyondAllDirections/Section0007.html December 20th 2020  

Photo by Zoltan Tasi on Unsplash

Sunday, December 4, 2022



It's December already, and the inevitable Christmas lights, decorations and music are already around us. As always, I have a fairly ambiguous relationship with all this - I find some of the decorations fun and coming out of a couple of years of lock-down the celebratory aspect feels good this year. The side that gives me pause is the incessant commercialization and equating a religious / seasonal celebration with the need to buy stuff.

Anyway, I am not going to Grinch-out on that subject now. Instead I am going to share a Grinch-like thought that only occurred to me for the first time last year. My apologies if this is something you have always known, or if in some way it offends you, but around this time last year I realized something that shocked me to the core:

The song "Jingle Bells" has absolutely nothing to do with Christmas.

The realization came to me as I was singing the song over the phone to my Mother. Now, I will ignore for now the reasons why I was singing to my mum over the phone, but let's just say it was a bit of a tradition. And this particular day I had chosen 'Jingle Bells.' And as I made my way through the words, I realized that they had nothing to do with Christmas, or Santa, or Reindeer, or anything else Christmassy at all.

And so I looked it up, and found out that, sure enough, "Jingle Bells" is not a Christmas song at all. The all-knowing Wikipedia describes the song like this:

"Jingle Bells" is one of the best-known and most commonly sung American songs in the world. It was written by James Lord Pierpont (1822–1893) and published under the title "The One Horse Open Sleigh" in the autumn of 1857. It has been claimed that it was originally written to be sung by a Sunday school choir for Thanksgiving, or as a drinking song.

So, a Thanksgiving song or Drinking song (I suppose those aren't mutually exclusive). The words don't even have anything to do with Christmas - they are more about a young courting couple taking the opportunity to be together away from others. The second verse goes:

A day or two ago
I thought I'd take a ride
And soon, Miss Fanny Bright
Was seated by my side,
The horse was lean and lank
Misfortune seemed his lot
He got into a drifted bank
And then we got upsot.

And the song ends, as Wikipedia summarizes, with the narrator giving "advice to a friend to pick up some girls, find a faster horse, and take off at full speed."

So why am I bringing this up? Am I about to go on a crusade to get the song removed from the canon of traditional Christmas Carols?

No, not at all, and if you asked me today if I considered "Jingle Bells" a Christmas Carol I would actually answer 'yes.' Even though it has nothing intrinsically to do with Christmas.

Why do I say this? Because the notion of being a Christmas Carol is purely a social construct. Something is a Christmas Carol not because of it's essential make-up, but because it is generally accepted as one. We can question the meteorological accuracy of "In the Bleak Midwinter" and still consider it a Christmas Carol. Christians can question the Theology of "Jerusalem" but it is still a hymn. "Jingle Bells" is a Christmas song because enough people have decided it is so.

While this is a bit of a silly (hopefully fun) example, this understanding that much of what we believe to be solid and concrete is actually only dependent on the surrounding causes is central to our meditation practices. We meditate on the five aggregates and we find that they are 'empty' - not in the sense that they don't exist but in the sense that they exist only in dependence on other things.

The Buddha actually used music as an example of this in one of my favorite passages (I have written about it before here), that of The King and the Lute:

"Suppose there were a king or king's minister who had never heard the sound of a lute before. He might hear the sound of a lute and say, 'What, my good men, is that sound — so delightful, so tantalizing, so intoxicating, so ravishing, so enthralling?' They would say, 'That, sire, is called a lute, whose sound is so delightful, so tantalizing, so intoxicating, so ravishing, so enthralling.' Then he would say, 'Go & fetch me that lute.' They would fetch the lute and say, 'Here, sire, is the lute whose sound is so delightful, so tantalizing, so intoxicating, so ravishing, so enthralling.' He would say, 'Enough of your lute. Fetch me just the sound.' Then they would say, 'This lute, sire, is made of numerous components, a great many components. It's through the activity of numerous components that it sounds: that is, in dependence on the body, the skin, the neck, the frame, the strings, the bridge, and the appropriate human effort. Thus it is that this lute — made of numerous components, a great many components — sounds through the activity of numerous components.'

"Then the king would split the lute into ten pieces, a hundred pieces. Having split the lute into ten pieces, a hundred pieces, he would shave it to splinters. Having shaved it to splinters, he would burn it in a fire. Having burned it in a fire, he would reduce it to ashes. Having reduced it to ashes, he would winnow it before a high wind or let it be washed away by a swift-flowing stream. He would then say, 'A sorry thing, this lute — whatever a lute may be — by which people have been so thoroughly tricked & deceived.'

When we take apart anything - a lute, a Christmas Carol, our selves - we find that there is nothing that can exist in isolation, that everything exists in dependence on everything else. You will not find the sound by grinding up the lute. You will not find the 'Christmas Carol-ness' of "Jingle Bells" in the words, or the music, but only in the collective minds of the millions of people who sing it at Christmas.

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully-guided meditation on the story of the lute - feel free to use it in whatever way is useful to you in your practice.


"Vina Sutta: The Lute" (SN 35.205), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn35/sn35.205.than.html .


Photo by Joanna Kosinska on Unsplash

Sunday, November 20, 2022



I am going to start today with an apology to all of you reading who are under forty or so. I am going to be referencing some music from the nineties, and it is likely that you will have no clue what I am talking about - so I will be sure to explain the relevance to our meditation practices. I've got you.

I am also going to apologize to those of you over forty too - the song I am going to reference is twenty seven years old. There is a significant possibility that the fact it was that long ago will feel like a bit of a shock to you. Think of it as a free extra lesson in mortality. You're welcome.

Anyway, yesterday I played an album I hadn't listened to in over twenty years - Canadian singer/songwriter Alanis Morisette's1995 work "Jagged Little Pill." Now, I love music from all genres and era's, and often listen to older works, but I hadn't listened to this one for a long time. On release it was a huge success and dominated alt-radio for the next couple of years. It was definitely an album of its time, something very much 'of' the period. So, while I used to play it a lot back then, it definitely fell out of rotation sometime around the turn of the Millennium.

So why was I digging back in the archives yesterday to resurface this bout of nostalgia? Well, more recently there has been a Tony-nominated Broadway musical based on the songs from the album. Last night I was fortunate enough to get to see it here in town, so before we went I was refreshing my memory of the music once again. The musical turned out to be a lot of fun, but that isn't what this letter is about - I want to talk about just one second in the opening song on the album.

The first track is titled "All I Really Want." It's quite a banger, with a driving drum riff and evocative lyrics - and is a great way to set the scene for the following songs. It was a big success as a single, and got a lot of radio play. But there is a small detail of the song that stood out to me the first time I heard it and still fascinates me to this day. At one point she sings:

Why are you so petrified of silence?
Here, can you handle this?

And everything stops. No instruments, no anything. Silence. Complete dead air.

I've measured it, it is only for a little more than a second, but it still comes as a shock and feels much longer. The contrast from the driving rhythm to nothing really gives you whiplash. Anyone who works in radio will tell you that dead air is a nightmare, so to release a (commercial) song with intentional dead air in it was quite brave.

But then the song comes back, with the question:

Did you think about your bills, your ex, your deadlines
Or when you think you're gonna die?
Or did you long for the next distraction?

I think we can all identify with this. I am sure that the very first time you meditated you went through some version of this, not knowing how to handle the silence.

A couple of years ago I wrote a piece called "Don't Wait: Pause," inspired by David Cain's wonderful essay "How to Walk Across a Parking Lot." Learning to work with silence can be hard but is ultimately a key part of our practice.

I have linked below a fully guided thirty minute meditation on "Don't Wait: Pause," where we work on silence by moving our mindset from 'waiting' for the time to end to 'pausing' and being present. It's a lot longer than one second! If you wish feel free to use it in your meditation practice. Whatever you do, I hope that in the coming week you can recognize the moments of silence and, rather than waiting for the next distraction, practice being present.

Metta, Chris.

P.S. One of the best known songs on the album is "Isn't it Ironic," a song where she list a number of unfortunate things that could happen and declares them 'ironic.' Despite it's success the song has also been widely ridiculed for the simple fact that this isn't what 'irony' means, and that what se is describing is just plain misfortune. Even the musical references the fact that this is a misuse of the term. My own feeling is that if she had used the word 'dukkha' instead of 'ironic' she would have nailed it. Maybe not as catchy but far more accurate. What do you think?

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Sunday, November 13, 2022

Soggy, Not Soggy

Soggy, Not Soggy

The weather this weekend has been lovely - cold, crisp and clear. Possibly my favorite time of the year. Of course this won't last, soon we will inevitably get that half-mist-half-rain that threatens to soak you through even though it hardly seems like it is raining. I was born and brought up in Southern England and now live in the Pacific Northwest, and the one thing they both have in common is that the weather can be described in just one word. Soggy.

I think soggy is a great word, one of those words that speaks to a shared experience. You probably have a specific image of your own, maybe of long wet grass or trying to read a map in the rain or getting back home from a walk after an unexpected downpour or getting out of a tent in the early morning with everything covered in dew. It is one of those evocative words that naturally causes our minds to jump to a specific experience.

The Buddha didn't want his monks to be soggy. Now, remember the monks lived a life that was largely spent outside, and as I mentioned last week they lived in an area where for several months of the year there was intense rainfall. So the monks knew all about being soggy, and just like us they probably had very specific memories and images that came up when they were exhorted not to be soggy.

There is even a 'Soggy Sutta,' the Avassuta Sutta. I know, it's a great name and one that makes me smile. This sutta takes place in a brand new, luxurious hall that the locals had just built and that they had invited the Buddha to teach in. After the locals had left to return to their own houses the Buddha asks the Venerable Maha Moggallana to give a dhamma talk to his fellow monks. Now I can only guess that the fact that they were in this dry hall protected from the elements inspired Ven. Moggallana to use the simile of being soggy. So what does it mean to be 'soggy?' Moggallana tells us:

And how is one soggy? There is the case where a monk, when seeing a form via the eye, is, in the case of pleasing forms, committed to forms and, in the case of displeasing forms, afflicted by forms. He remains with body-mindfulness not present, and with limited awareness. And he does not discern, as it actually is present, the awareness-release & discernment-release where those evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen cease without trace.

He repeats this for perceiving sounds, smells, taste, touch and thoughts.

What he is saying is that we are 'soggy' when we perceive these things and allow ourselves to be caught up by the pleasant things and aversion to the unpleasant things, and while doing so we fail to be truly present and are unaware of what is really going on. This is being soggy.

So how does Moggallana suggest we avoid being 'soggy?'

And how is one not soggy? There is the case where a monk, when seeing a form via the eye, is not, in the case of pleasing forms, committed to forms nor, in the case of displeasing forms, afflicted by forms. He remains with body-mindfulness present, and with immeasurable awareness. And he discerns, as it actually is present, the awareness-release & discernment-release where those evil, unskillful qualities that have arisen cease without trace.

So not-sogginess comes about by not getting caught up in the pleasant, or in aversion to the unpleasant, and by retaining presence and awareness.

And that, of course is what we practice. To be present, aware and not caught up in the whirlwind of the things we perceive and experience. To not be soggy.

So whatever the weather brings you this coming week, wherever you are in the world and whatever you experience, I wish you all to be not-soggy.

Metta, Chris.

P.S. As an aside, in the middle of the sutta Ven. Moggallana goes into a metaphor of how Mara - the personification of spiritual unskillfulness, death and evil - can gain entry by burning down a dry grass house but not a clay house - interesting because it is a close parallel to the parable of the wise man in the Christian tradition and, of course, the traditional fairy tale of the three little pigs. Think Mara as Big Bad Wolf! You can read it in the full sutta, though I have to say Moggallana can definitely be accused of mixing metaphors with sogginess and resistance to fire! The message remains though of the need to be structurally sound, built from sound materials and 'not soggy.'

 P.P.S. Below I have linked a fully guided meditation on staying present - feel free to use it in your practice in whatever way you feel helps.

"Avassuta Sutta: Soggy" (SN 35.202), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn35/sn35.202.than.html .

Photo by Rebecca Campbell on Unsplash

Sunday, November 6, 2022

Fall Back

Fall Back

About fifteen years ago I headed down to the local yoga studio where I was leading the regular Sunday evening sit. When I got there I was the first there as usual, and I opened up and set out my cushion and sat waiting for the others to come.

In those days we had a small but loyal group, but our numbers had be dwindling. I had told myself that I would keep leading the group for as long as people came. But this particular Sunday seven o'clock came and no-one had arrived. I decided to just sit on my own for the hour and then go back home.

But around twenty to eight I heard a kerfuffle in the reception area and the hushed but happy voices of a few people arriving. Confused I stood up and went out to meet them, and they greeted me normally as if nothing was happening. It was at that point that I twigged that the clocks had gone back and, it appeared, I was the only one who had not realized! Around half a dozen people turned up, and yes I did get some ribbing when I told them what had happened.

The clocks went back here today. Nowadays it is harder to make the mistake I did that year with our phones and computers, but it is still possible to get confused, and it is still common for our body clocks to not want to make the change. I'm not going to get into the clock-change argument, but suffice to say I won't be upset if we abandon the process completely as other countries are beginning to do.

One positive thing the clock changing does do for me is to mark a seasonal change. This year has been weird in this area due to the abnormal weather patterns (snow in April - 80° in October) but even so this weekend has felt like a shift as we enter the darker season.

I have written before about how I like to follow the tradition of many cultures in the spring of thinking of new birth and new beginnings. In the fall I like to follow the return to the earth, to reconnect with nature, to reassess as we 'hunker down' for the cold and wet.

This idea of allowing our practice to follow the practicalities of the seasons is of course nothing new, and almost all traditions have some version of it. The Buddha in his day instigated what we now call the 'Rains Retreat' or 'Rains Residence,' a period of three months from roughly July to October. This corresponded with the local monsoons, a time when travel was dangerous to the traveler, to crops and to animals. So the monks committed to stay in one place and this formed a central part of the monastic year. Nowadays many traditions follow the same pattern but sometimes translated to match the local climate - so for example Plum Village in France practice their retreat between September and December.

However we practice we can use the rhythms of the seasons to inspire us - and to return us to an awareness of the world around us. What I like about the concept of the Rains Retreat is that while on the one hand it's roots were immensely practical, the requirement to not travel and stay in one place is a wonderful opportunity to refresh, renew and reconnect. For me, I find that this time is an excellent time to practice finding some stillness. I have linked below a fully guided meditation on this that you can use in your own practice if you wish.

Metta, Chris.

PS. Those of you who have been reading this letter for a while will know that I have been traveling and had other commitments for a number of weeks. Thank you for your patience while I have been gone! It has been a mix of family, pleasure and work travel and commitments. There have been high highs and low lows and plenty of opportunity to practice equanimity - not that I always managed to! I am glad now that I can stay in one place for a while!

Photo by Abdul A on Unsplash

Thursday, September 22, 2022



It was my plan to send out this letter on Sunday. I had a great theme in mind, and the time to write it - but...

Well you know. As the famous first line of Burns' poem goes:

The best laid plans of mice and men...

Only it doesn't. It's actually not the first line - it's right in the middle of his poem 'To A Mouse,' and the actual words are:

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men

OK, so not so far off. And of course we all know the next line, don't we? Don't we? It's a favorite pub-quiz question after all. And it's on the tip of your tongue... I'll give you the actual next line later in this letter.

But back to the subject in hand. Plans. Or my lack of discipline in executing my plan. Truth be told, I empathize with the great author Douglas Adams when he observed:

I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.

So here I am on a Wednesday morning, writing what should have been (and could have been) written on Sunday - and writing it just before I have to head out to the airport to get on a plane.

There's a great TED talk by Tim Urban called "Inside the mind of a master procrastinator." It's a really funny and insightful talk, and I highly recommend watching it. I am going to spoil it a bit by telling you the main points of the talk: firstly, that we tend to put things off until a big enough, scary enough deadline (such as a flight out the country) comes up; and secondly that some things never get done because there doesn't seem to be a deadline. But, as he points out, our true deadline for all these things is our death - we just aren't acknowledging this. His cure for procrastination? Awareness of our mortality. Sound familiar?

When we think about plans we need to separate the effort to work on our plans an the outcome of that effort. The effort is within our control, we can choose how much or how little we put in to the endeavor. The outcome, however, is not within our control, and we need to learn how to let go of attachment to outcome.

For example, as I travel today I can put in the effort to do my part - to be at the airport at the right time, with the right documents and with a positive attitude. The actual outcome - whether the flights run on time or if the journey is chaotic - these things are outside my control. I need to put in the effort, but not be attached to the outcome. That is the key to sane travel.

So, as the great poet Burns wrote:

The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
Gang aft agley,

You knew that, didn't you?

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully-guided meditation on why there aren't 'Merit Badges' to achieve in Metta Meditation. Feel free to use it in any way that helps you in your practice.

Photo by Glenn Carstens-Peters on Unsplash

Sunday, September 11, 2022



In a previous job I used to travel a lot, taking an flight somewhere most weeks. It was fun for a while but got old fairly quickly - especially when I was going back to the same locations over and over again. But there were some times that were special - like the time when I got to see the same sunset twice in Cincinatti (I saw it first when on the plane waiting to take off, then once more after the plane was in the air), or the times when I got to see a 'glory' (circular rainbow) in the clouds beneath us, with the shadow of the plane perfectly distinct within it.

One of the beautiful feelings I often got was seeing the lines and lines of city lights when leaving or approaching a city at night. It was most pronounced when flying over the suburbs of Los Angeles, where the seemingly endless grids of yellow lights stretch out for as far as the eye can see and it is difficult not to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of humanity that is out there. It's a strange feeling that is both melancholic and affirming. There really is no good word for it. Or is there?

I am currently reading "The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows," a book by John Koenig. It is laid out, as the title might suggest, as a dictionary and consists of made-up words to describe emotions that the author feels we don't yet have good words for in English. Now, the linguists among you will point out that all words are made up, and that I should be using the description 'neologisms,' but I think that 'made-up' is closer to the case here. These are words that one man has made up to fill a very specific need - he struggled writing poetry because he could not find the right words to express his emotions, so he started making up words to fit. This became a website and a YouTube Channel and finally the book I am reading.

There are several words that he coined that have become popular, and which people have started using more broadly. One of these is the word sonder, that has been used as the title of a video game, a mental health start-up, more than one music album and even a bike brand. It clearly has resonance with a lot of people. Koenig beautifully defines the meaning of 'sonder' as:

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.
When I flew over the miles and miles of lights over LA, part of the complex feelings I was having was 'sonder' - the realization that there were millions of people below me, each one living out their own life, their own story unfolding.

In our Metta practice we run through four specific people and practice feeling lovingkindness and goodwill. The four people are: our self; a friend; a 'neutral' (hardly known) person, and; an 'enemy.' It is tempting sometimes to think of them ranging from 'easy' to 'hard,' but it doesn't take long before we realize that this is far from the case. Sometimes it is hard to feel positively to ourselves, sometimes the well-known flaws of the friend stand out, and sometimes it is hard to identify with the neutral person.

I have written before about how the neutral person can be the key to true unconditional lovingkindness. We have to be able to say that our feelings for them would not change if we were to learn more about them. As I often say with the neutral person we have to come to a place where our goodwill towards them would not change if we discovered that they worked selflessly to help the needy, or if they had a confederate flag on their truck, or both. Our lovingkindness to them would be the same.

This is where I find the concept of sonder to be helpful. Recognizing that the people we know nothing about are - just like us -playing out their own stories, with their own struggles, failures and successes. This is the antidote to tribalism and a key to opening up our hearts to all people.

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully guided meditation where we focus on the Neutral Person - you are free to use it in whatever way helps you in your practice. If you have never practiced Metta Bhavana before, or if you need a refresher, this might be a good place to start.

Photo by Benni Talent on Unsplash

Sunday, August 28, 2022

Tick, Tick...

Tick, Tick...

Last night I saw a local theater production of Jonathan Larson's "Tick, Tick... Boom!". This is a short, semi-autobiograpical musical where Larson explores the feelings of 'Jon,' an as-yet unsuccessful composer of musical theater just about to turn thirty. If you are unfamiliar with the piece then I can highly recommend the recent movie adaptation (available on Netflix). As you can imagine the piece goes through the artist's conflict of being dedicated to creating his art, while at the same time fearing that his work is futile, having reached the dreaded age of thirty without success.

In theater and writing there is a concept of dramatic irony, which according to Wictionary can be defined as "A theatrical effect in which the true meaning of a situation, or some incongruity in the plot, is understood by the audience, but not by the characters in the play." In the case of Tick, Tick... Boom! we have an extra level of dramatic irony, as the audience today knows two extra pieces of information that even the writer did not - namely that:

  1. Larson was to go on a few years later to write Rent, one of the most successful and influential Broadway shows ever - one that redefined musical theater for the next twenty years; and
  2. Tragically, Larson was to die suddenly the day of the first preview of Rent Off-Broadway. He never got to see it reach Broadway or know of its huge success.

This extra information makes the whole of Tick, Tick... Boom! even more poignant and moving, as we know that part of the protagonist's anxiety (whether he could create great, successful art) was unfounded, while the other side - his fear of his mortality and time slipping away - was not.

In our culture we don't like to face our mortality head-on - somehow we feel that it is an unsavory topic or worse that it is morbid and even unlucky. But ignoring our mortality is foolishness. I have no way to know, but I do wonder if Larson's awareness of his mortality spurred him on to stick with his art and to achieve the towering success that was Rent - even though he was never to see it.

In the Bhaddekaratta Sutta (An Auspicious Day), The Buddha tells us:

You shouldn't chase after the past
or place expectations on the future.
What is past
    is left behind.
The future
    is as yet unreached.
Whatever quality is present
you clearly see right there,
       right there.
Not taken in,
that's how you develop the heart.
Ardently doing
what should be done today,
for — who knows? —  tomorrow
There is no bargaining
with Mortality & his mighty horde.

Whoever lives thus ardently,
    both day & night,
has truly had an auspicious day:
so says the Peaceful Sage.

There is no bargaining with Mortality & his mighty horde. That said, we should face it and we should be ardently doing what should be done today. I for one am glad that Larson did what he felt needed to be done. The question for all of us is what should be done today?

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully-guided thirty minute meditation on 'Showing Up.' Please feel free to use it in your own practice if you wish.

"Bhaddekaratta Sutta: An Auspicious Day" (MN 131), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.131.than.html .

Photo by Swag Photography on Unsplash

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Squirrel Part 2

Squirrel Part 2

Note: If you didn't read "Squirrel Part 1" from last week don't worry, you don't need to have done so before reading this as I will fill in the necessary background. However if you would rather read that first you can find it here.

One of the perks of my day job is that I get to work with some of the most cutting-edge computer and software systems. One of the systems I have been playing around with lately is DALL-E 2, a state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence (AI) system that has been causing quite a stir in both the arts and the computing communities since it was released a few months ago. What it does is take an English prompt and creates a picture (a photo, drawing or piece of 'art') that matches the prompt. If you are interested you can find a load of great examples here.

Those of you who did read the first part of this letter last week will know that I was enchanted by the concept of a "Squirrel Sanctuary," the location for the particular sutta that we have been looking at. So I could not resist entering the prompt "a drawing of a group of squirrels in a squirrel sanctuary listening to the Buddha in a bamboo grove" into DALL-E 2, and the picture above is what it produced. Not bad, eh? The drawing reminded me of the beautiful (and sometimes disturbing) Jataka Tales - a collection of moral stories from the Buddha's past lives which often involve animals. Because of this they are often thought of, and presented as, children's stories - but they are much more than that. Maybe I will do some letters on some of those stories - let me know if you would find that interesting. And maybe I will ask DALL-E 2 to help illustrate them as well!

Anyway, let's get back to the Squirrel Sanctuary in the Bamboo Grove, where the sutta we are reading - the Bhumija Sutta - takes place. Last week I talked about the events that lead up to the more famous part (which we will cover today). In the build-up the monk Bhumija went to visit his nephew Prince Jayasena. The prince asked him a question that had been troubling him. Basically some brahmans had visited and had told him that regardless of motivation, it was not possible to gain results from spiritual practice. He asked Bhumija what the Buddha would say, and Bhumija replied that he hadn't heard the Buddha talk on this subject, but based on his own understanding of the teaching then if the practice was followed appropriately then there would be results - whether or not there had been a desire for results in the first place.

Bhumija returns to the Buddha at the Squirrel Sanctuary and recounts to him what has happened:

Answering in this way when thus asked, lord, am I speaking in line with what the Blessed One has said, am I not misrepresenting the Blessed One with what is unfactual, am I answering in line with the Dhamma so that no one whose thinking is in line with the Dhamma will have grounds for criticizing me?

I can imagine Bhujima being a bit nervous here - he clearly wanted to answer the prince in a way that was helpful, but worried that his answer might not have been an accurate reflection of the Buddha's teachings. Fortunately for Bhujima the Buddha answered him like this:

Certainly, Bhumija, in answering in this way when thus asked, you are speaking in line with what I have said, you are not misrepresenting me with what is unfactual, and you are answering in line with the Dhamma so that no one whose thinking is in line with the Dhamma will have grounds for criticizing you. For any brahmans or contemplatives endowed with wrong view, wrong resolve, wrong speech, wrong action, wrong livelihood, wrong effort, wrong mindfulness, & wrong concentration: If they follow the holy life even when having made a wish [for results], they are incapable of obtaining results. If they follow the holy life even when having made no wish, they are incapable of obtaining results. If they follow the holy life even when both having made a wish and having made no wish, they are incapable of obtaining results. If they follow the holy life even when neither having made a wish nor having made no wish, they are incapable of obtaining results. Why is that? Because it is an inappropriate way of obtaining results.

Some of you will probably recognize that the inappropriate approach mentioned here - wrong view, wrong resolve, wrong speech, wrong action, wrong livelihood, wrong effort, wrong mindfulness, & wrong concentration is the exact inverse of the Noble Eightfold Path - right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, & right concentration. These are the qualities, the disciplines, that lead to liberation from suffering which is the core of the Buddha's teaching. If these are new to you (or you need a refresher) then I highly recommend this short book by Bhikkhu Bodhi you can read here.

So what the Buddha is saying here is that yes, if practiced inappropriately there will be no results regardless of your desire. But if practiced appropriately - with right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, & right concentration - then there will be a result and that result is the ending of dukkha - suffering, stress or 'unsatisfactoryness.' I have written before about this concept of dukkha in the letter "Not What We Want" that you can read here if you wish.

Now, as many of you know, I have a tendency to find a lot more humor in the Pali Canon than some others do. I don't know if that is just me projecting, but the Buddha often has what to me is a mischievous turn of phrase, and I can often imagine the monks laughing along with him (or sometimes squirming) when he uses a particularly outrageous simile. Whether or not they were meant to be funny, I am sure they were chosen to be memorable. And in this case the Buddha gives Bhumija a number of quite extreme examples of people behaving quite foolishly.

Suppose a man in need of oil, looking for oil, wandering in search of oil, would pile gravel in a tub and press it, sprinkling it again & again with water. If he were to pile gravel in a tub and press it, sprinkling it again & again with water even when having made a wish [for results]... having made no wish... both having made a wish and having made no wish... neither having made a wish nor having made no wish, he would be incapable of obtaining results. Why is that? Because it is an inappropriate way of obtaining results.

I can imagine Bhumija laughing at this - of course such foolishness wouldn't reap results! How could it? It would be foolish to expect results, no matter how much you wished for them.

The Buddha goes on to describe three other scenarios - trying to get milk from a cow's horn, trying to get butter from water and trying to get fire from wet, green wood. All of these are of course futile, and will not generate results, no matter how much we might desire the results. So what is the answer?

Suppose a man in need of oil, looking for oil, wandering in search of oil, would pile sesame seeds in a tub and press them, sprinkling them again & again with water. If he were to pile sesame seeds in a tub and press them, sprinkling them again & again with water, even when having made a wish [for results]... having made no wish... both having made a wish and having made no wish... neither having made a wish nor having made no wish, he would be capable of obtaining results. Why is that? Because it is an appropriate way of obtaining results.

Of course! Oil comes from sesame seeds!  Likewise milk from udders, butter from curds and fire from dry wood. Regardless of desire, it is going about things the appropriate way that generates results. In some ways you can think of the lesson here as the 'anti-Secret' - it doesn't matter how much you desire results if you go about things the wrong way!

And we are taught the right way is to practice right view, right resolve, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right mindfulness, & right concentration. It's not easy, but it does get results.

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully guided half-hour meditation on the concept of Dukkha, 'Not What We Want.' Feel free to use it in your practice in any way you feel helps.



"Bhumija Sutta: To Bhumija" (MN 126), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 30 November 2013,
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.126.than.html .

Picture generated by OpenAI's DALL-E 2 system, using the prompt: "a drawing of a group of squirrels in a squirrel sanctuary listening to the Buddha in a bamboo grove"

Sunday, August 7, 2022

Squirrel Part 1

Squirrel Part 1

You will probably have noticed that this letter bears the suffix 'Part 1,' and as such you are probably expecting that there will be - at least - a Part 2 to follow. And you would be correct. As I was doing some background reading for this letter I realized that there were several points I wanted to cover, and that to do them justice I would be best separating them out. And so we have the first two-part Metta Letter. My goal is to cover the rest of the subject in hand next week. And the rules of dramatic tension say that I should end this letter on some kind of a cliff-hanger. Let's see how I do.

This week I have been reading the Bhumija Sutta, or the Sutta To Bhumija. This is quite a well-known sutta where the Buddha gives some instruction to the monk Bhumija on right view. In the process of doing this he uses some powerful similes on what it is like to act without right view, and how that contrasts with the same actions with right view. These similes are often quoted, which is why the sutta may be familiar to you. I will cover these similes and their lesson next week.

For this letter, however, I am going to take a quick look at the context that the teaching was given in. Now this is something I like to do, to try and understand as best I can the overall picture of what is being described. When I was a kid at Sunday School one of my teachers suggested that when looking at a Bible story you should imagine how you would turn it into a play. That way, he argued, you have to understand the full context of what is going on and not just focus on the familiar bits. Now, I am quite sure he would not have approved of me using his advice to better understand Buddhist suttas, but none the less I find it is a very powerful way to approach them.

Let me start by quoting the first line of the sutta:

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Rajagaha in the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels' Sanctuary.

Now, if you are like me, you will now take fifteen minutes to process the concept of a 'Squirrel Sanctuary.'

While I am sure that this is an artifact of translation, and it really just means the part of the Bamboo Grove where the squirrels liked to hang out, I'm going all in on the notion of a squirrel sanctuary. My play will definitely have some stuffed animals and friendly signs saying 'you are safe here,' and squirrels happily limping about with their legs in casts. If it's a movie, then surely some really cute CGI squirrels caring for each other while listening to the words of the Buddha are appropriate.

Anyway, I digress, and much as I love the idea of a squirrel chorus they probably don't add much to the context here. Or maybe they do, if you have ideas let me know.

The context that is important however is the background to why the Buddha gave his teaching to Bhumija in the first place.

The Venerable Bhumija, we are told, was a monk studying with the Buddha. One day he went out to Prince Jayasena's palace to meet with him (it is possible that Bhumija was Prince Jayasena's uncle). Prince Jayasena had been given some teaching by some Brahmans, and was somewhat confused by it. So, he asked for Bhumija's advice:

Master Bhumija, there are some brahmans & contemplatives who espouse this teaching, espouse this view: 'If one follows the holy life, even when having made a wish for results, one is incapable of obtaining results. If one follows the holy life even when having made no wish, one is incapable of obtaining results. If one follows the holy life even when both having made a wish and having made no wish, one is incapable of obtaining results. If one follows the holy life even when neither having made a wish nor having made no wish, one is incapable of obtaining results.' With regard to that, what does Master Bhumija's teacher say, what is his view, what does he declare?

What the prince had been told was that regardless of whether one has a desire for results from a spiritual practice or not, there is no way to actually achieve anything. I am sure that the teachers who told him this were a bundle of fun and joy. Interestingly the prince doesn't ask Bhumija for his view on this, but instead asks what his teacher (the Buddha) would say about it.

Now I love Bhumija's reply. In reality he does not know exactly what the Buddha would reply, and rather than just make a guess or mislead, he answers in the most honest way possible. He says (i) that he hasn't heard the Buddha speak on this particular subject, but that (ii) based on his own understanding of the Buddha's teaching this is what the response might be.

I haven't heard this face to face with the Blessed One, prince, I haven't received this face to face with the Blessed One, but there is the possibility that the Blessed One would answer in this way: 'If one follows the holy life inappropriately, even when having made a wish for results, one is incapable of obtaining results. If one follows the holy life inappropriately, even when having made no wish... both having made a wish and having made no wish... neither having made a wish nor having made no wish, one is incapable of obtaining results. But if one follows the holy life appropriately, even when having made a wish, one is capable of obtaining results. If one follows the holy life appropriately, even when having made no wish... both having made a wish and having made no wish... neither having made a wish nor having made no wish, one is capable of obtaining results.' I haven't heard this face to face with the Blessed One, I haven't received this face to face with the Blessed One, but there is the possibility that the Blessed One would answer in this way.

To me this is an incredibly honest and humble reply. He does his best to provide an answer to the philosophical question without claiming to speak to matters he doesn't fully understand, while still being helpful to the prince in his own search.

I find there is much to learn from Bhumija's approach here, and specifically in his openness when things were outside of his direct experience. I think that many of us sometimes have a bit of a 'fake it till you make it' approach - I know I do - and while there are times that is good, we need to be careful not to claim authority when we have no right to do so. Unfortunately our society often values certainty over truth, when sometimes some good, honest, uncertainty - like Bhumija's - is what is most helpful. Never be afraid to admit to uncertainty.

Which brings us to the big question: was Bhumija's answer correct? Well, you will have to wait until next week's letter to find out...

Metta, Chris.

P.S. I'm not very good at this dramatic tension thing. You can of course read the whole sutta yourself for the details, but what Bhumija said was correct, and the Buddha endorses Bhumija's answer. What the Buddha then says is a vivid clarification of what leading a holy life 'inappropriately' and 'appropriately' really mean. I will cover this next week.

P.P.S. I am still giggling about the squirrels.

P.P.P.S. I have linked below a fully guided thirty minute meditation on right view, feel free to use it in whichever way helps you in your practice.



"Bhumija Sutta: To Bhumija" (MN 126), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu.
Access to Insight (BCBS Edition)
, 30 November 2013,
http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/mn/mn.126.than.html .


Photo by Vincent van Zalinge on Unsplash

Sunday, July 31, 2022

Mind-Ass Connection

Mind-Ass Connection

I am not much of a dancer.

Actually, let me start that again. In the history of lousy dancers, I am by far the most lousy. I dream of being good enough to be described as having two left feet. Whatever sequences in DNA are responsible for groove - well I am missing them all.

Now that doesn't mean that I dislike dance - far from it. I love watching people dance and of course enjoy all forms of music. It's just that when I am with a group of people dancing I will be stood off to the side, feet planted firmly on the ground, gently swaying to some other beat.

On Friday I had the joy of seeing the funk legend George Clinton in concert. Now George is 81 years old and still far more in the groove than I was in my 20s. That said, like all smart elder statesmen of music he has surrounded himself with a group of young, extremely talented musicians, and they did all the heavy-lifting. But make no mistake, all of the hard-dancing audience (and the fringe of older swayers like me) were there to see George. And what a wonderful, joyful occasion it was.

George Clinton is known as a psychedelic philosopher, and one of his most famous quotes (and the title of one of his albums) is "Free your mind, and your ass will follow."

Now, when he said that he was thinking more of chemical freeing, but as I was swaying to the music Friday night it reminded me of my root teacher, Ruth Denison. Ruth was a force of nature, and came to meditation with a background in dance. Throughout her teaching she emphasized the importance of working with our bodies as we work on our meditation. Sometimes we can think of meditation as a purely cerebral thing, all happening 'in our head,' but she would warn against this dualistic approach and instead encourage an awareness of both what is happening in our minds and in our bodies. One analogy she used to use was that before embarking on a meditation practice most people were just 'minds on sticks' - with no integration or awareness of their bodies. When interviewed about her own path she said:

The longer I taught, the more I realized the difficulties that the meditators displayed in their meditation; they did not have the cultural and religious background for the ability to simply sit and pay attention to their own living process, body-mind sensations. In focusing so intently on the breath and body parts for long periods of time, people would try too hard.

So I expand the selection of body sensations to keep the meditators engaged, and to foster softness and gentleness within themselves. I experiment with the application of mindfulness to body, breath and sensations in body positions other than just sitting. What evolves is meditation while standing, walking, running, jumping, lying down, rolling on the grass meditation in the entire scope of body's mobility and expression, in yoga ásanas, in dance and laughing, in sound, touch, taste, sight or imitation motions such as crawling like a worm, etc.

But let me stress that what I do is strictly within the prescribed bounds of Buddha's teachings using the body and its sensations as a vehicle for mindfulness training, for developing awareness for clear comprehension of the present moment, of correct understanding of life's living and dying.
I'm not sure she would have appreciated the analogy (though she might have, she did have a wicked sense of humor), but in some ways what she was teaching was "Free your ass, and your mind will follow."

However you want to think of it, it is important that we don't let our practice become a purely intellectual, cerebral exercise. We are not just freeing our mind but our whole being, including our body. Our awareness, our presence, should be complete.

Unfortunately though it hasn't improved my dancing skills.

Metta, Chris.

I have linked below a fully guided meditation on 'whole body breathing,' a breath meditation that encourages our awareness of our whole body. Feel free to use it in any way which helps you with your practice.

Photo: George Clinton (in sailor hat) with Parliament-Funkadelic at Pioneer Square, Portland, July 29th 2022

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Like Butter

Like Butter

Note: There isn't an audio meditation linked to this letter. There was going to be, but I chose not to post one - all of which I will explain later. So there are two parts to this - the message I wanted to discuss, and then a short discussion on my decision not to link the audio. I hope that this "Metta Letter" doesn't become too "meta!"

Earlier this week I was in New York City attending a conference. Like many parts of the country - and the world - at the moment, NYC has been experiencing some high temperatures and the highs were around 100° - not that unusual for the city in the summer but still quite oppressive when combined with the humidity (and the occasional thunderstorms). After the short walk from my hotel to the conference center I was a completely melted blob, and even in the highly air-conditioned conference center it took me at least an hour for my core temperature to return to normal.

Back here in the Pacific Northwest it looks like we are heading for similar weather this week, the summer having finally arrived with a vengeance. This could be a good week to stay in cool places if you can, and for all of us to reflect on the collective foolishness that is driving some of the extreme temperatures we are seeing around the world.

But - back in the conference center - this week I reflected on a common simile that is used when teaching meditation. Rather than trying to struggle in meditation we are told to be like a block of butter in the sun, allowing the sun to melt us. Rather than resisting we can instead be accepting of the environment we are in - hot or cold, noisy or quiet - and be present with that. This isn't a negative passivity but an integration as the butter and the sun become part of the same process.

The simile of melting butter in meditation has also been used as a healing visualization. The Eighteenth Century Zen Master Hakuin Ekaku tells a story of when he was severely ill, and sought out the advice of a Hermit called Master Hakuyu. Master Hakuyu taught Hakuin the following visualization meditation:

Imagine that a lump of soft butter, pure in colour and fra­grance and the size and shape of a duck egg, is suddenly placed on the top of your head. As it begins to slowly melt, it imparts an exquisite sensation, moistening and saturating your head within and without. It continues to ooze down, moistening your shoul­ders, elbows, and chest; permeating lungs, diaphragm, liver, stomach, and bowels; moving down the spine through the hips, pelvis, and buttocks.

You can read the full instruction here, but I am sure that many of you will recognize this as a twist on body awareness meditation. I have found that the vivid imagery of the melting butter is a powerful alternative to the simple 'body scan' meditations we often do.

So, as we head into the hotter weather this week I would like to first encourage you to stay safe and look after yourself (water is good medicine!) and also to use the image of melting butter as an encouragement in your practice.

Metta, Chris.

P.S. So, as a postscript to this I would like to mention why there is no audio recording for this week's letter. I know many of you like to follow along with the recordings. As I was planning this letter I recalled that several years ago I lead a meditation on melting butter, and sure enough I found the recording from 2015. I started to edit it as I usually do. The recordings usually need quite a bit of cleaning up, and as I did so I realized that I had extensively quoted from a well-known modern Tibetan teacher that I have read quite a bit of, where he eloquently describes meditating while visualizing melting butter. Unfortunately since that time it has become public that there are many credible and disturbing allegations of abuse by the teacher. Now, while what he wrote is still highly relevant it has become hard to separate that from his behavior. Now I know that none of us are without darker parts in our life (I'm certainly not), and while it is possible sometimes to separate someone's work from their behavior (I still listen to Wagner), in this case I felt it was disrespectful to the victims and it took away the authority of his words. This wasn't an easy decision and I went back and forth on it, but eventually decided to completely scrap the recording. I also decided that rather than just replacing it with another I would share my thought process with you. I know this is a complex subject and that sadly Buddhism has had it's fair share of these issues (in short, wherever there is a power dynamic someone will abuse it), but hopefully you will at least understand my decision here. I'll leave the last words to Jill Sobule: "Why are all our heroes so imperfect?"

Sunday, July 17, 2022

Skillful Acts


Skillful Acts

This week there has been a lot of chatter in the news about a TikTok phenomenon that has gone somewhat sour. There are several influential young TikTok creators who have devoted themselves to performing 'random acts of kindness' on their channels, and sharing video of them doing so in order to inspire others to do the same. The 'random acts' range from giving strangers compliments, flowers, money or even more substantial gifts. Some of the channels have millions of followers, who are enthralled by all of these acts. Sounds very positive, what could be wrong with doing nice things for people and encouraging others to do the same?

Well, the problem here of course is that for some of these it's not just about the kindness, it's about the clicks. The goal often isn't to do something nice but to get good footage to engage your followers. And many of the recipients of the kindness don't like being used in this way, and can feel ambushed and dehumanized in the process. They may receive an unexpected (and possibly unwanted) bunch of flowers, but their likeness and reaction is then used for the benefit of the content creator. This has lead to much discussion on the ethics of these so-called 'random acts of kindness.'

As I was reading all of the discussions on this many things arose in my mind, a couple of which I will share with you here. Turning intentions of kindness into action is remarkably hard, and it is so easy for things to go wrong.

One of the first things I thought of was the well-known example of when the late chef Anthony Bourdain was filming in Haiti. He and his crew had stopped to film at a roadside soup stall, and after filming him trying the food he recognized that they were a bunch of rich Americans eating while a group of young kids were starving around them. So they paid for the whole of the day's food at the stall and allowed the children to have some free food.

Which all sounds wonderful and noble, but it soon got quite ugly. Bigger kids, who were equally starving, arrived and pushed away the younger ones, and then came the adults, who were also starving, and very soon the 'act of kindness' turned into a full blown riot with violence and people getting beaten. You can hear Anthony Bourdain reflecting on this experience here - it is worth listening to as it shows how a well-intentioned act can have very negative results.

 A number of years ago I attended a weekend retreat with Sharon Salzberg and she shared a teaching that was very helpful for me, and I hope it will be helpful for you too. It speaks to exactly these issues and gives us a bit of a roadmap for how to navigate the tricky issue of how to turn Metta - lovingkindness or goodwill - into action. And - I want to be clear on this point - action is important. It isn't enough to just have warm and fuzzy feelings for people. If we are truly filled with Metta we will be drawn to somehow reducing the suffering of others. And that is tricky, which is why I found Sharon Salzberg's teaching so powerful.

She encourages us to think about action as having three parts - intention, execution and outcome.

Starting with intention, our actions should start from a place of love and compassion, of a genuine desire to bring joy to or alleviate the suffering of the other person. While it is not for me to judge the motivations of the TikTok creators, there is clearly a possibility for an impure motive, that the desire for clicks, likes and monetization is the true driver rather than the desire to actually bring joy. In Anthony Bourdain's case it feels like the motivation was truly one of compassion for the starving kids (it is possible that it was from pity, the near-enemy of compassion). On the surface at least it seems like the intention was positive. So what went wrong?

The second part of outcome is execution, and this is where things get interesting. We are taught that we should actually perform acts with skill (kusala) - and to use our best skill. Part of this skill is having the wisdom to know whether we have sufficient skill. It is possible to have the most compassionate and noble of intentions, but to perform the action without the necessary skill. This is what happened in Haiti, he didn't understand the dynamic, that the depth of starvation around him meant that the well-intentioned act would have seriously negative consequences. With 20-20 hindsight it can be seen that this wasn't a skillful act, though I am not at all sure that if I were in the same position I would have been able to predict the outcome either.

Which brings us to the third part of taking action - the outcome. The first two parts are within our control. We can examine our intentions and motivations, and question their purity to better ensure that our actions stem from a root of love and compassion. Having done that we can develop and work on our skills, and be sure that when we take action we are using our 'best skills,' and that we have the wisdom to know when our own skills are lacking. The third aspect, the outcome, is however outside of our control. We can never know fully the complexity of what is going on for the other person, where they are in themselves and how they are feeling. Sharon Salzberg teaches us that if we have examined our intentions, and acted with our best skill, then we have to let go of any attachment to the outcome. It needs to be a true gift - one where we attach no control or even desire as to how the gift will be used.

I find that viewing compassionate action in this way, with these three simple steps, is extremely useful and also explains why sometimes things go wrong. I hope that it is useful to you too.

Metta, Chris.

P.S. I would like to thank all of you for your patience over the last few weeks as I was away for a number of reasons. And special thanks for those of you who wished me well for the vacation part of my absence - yes I had a wonderful, relaxing time in CDMX and came back refreshed!

P.P.S. I have written before about how Wisdom and Compassion go hand in hand, and the above is an example of how important it is to develop both. I have linked below a fully guided audio meditation on the Bell and the Dorje, and how they can remind us to cultivate both compassion and wisdom together.